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Disabled and disempowered in the Indian civil services

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Even though the law reserves three per cent of vacancies in each civil service for disabled candidates, they are routinely denied posts.

New Delhi: Shweta Bansal cleared the civil services exam in 2012 with a rank of 769. The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) recommended her for service, but she was denied a post by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), which told her that none of the eight services she opted for could accommodate a candidate like her.

Bansal has locomotor disability.

Not one to sit back and idly lament a system that fails citizens with disabilities, Bansal moved the Central Administrative Tribunal in 2013. The Tribunal ruled that Bansal be granted a post if there was a vacancy. But she asked why must she be allowed a post she is entitled to only if there is a vacancy?

Unsatisfied with the verdict, Bansal moved the Delhi High Court, which finally ordered the DoPT to assign her to the Indian Foreign Service.

“Her position was like that of a person who was asked to exercise choice impulsively, as if she was a participant in a game of roulette in which a stroke of luck or misfortune would be determinative,” Justice Sanjiv Khanna noted in the verdict.

Unfortunately, Bansal’s case is not a one-off. Ira Singhal appeared for the 2010 civil services examination and qualified for the central services. But the DoPT denied her services on the grounds that she had locomotor disability. She appealed to the CAT, and the tribunal passed an order in February 2014 directing the government to accommodate her in the Indian Revenue Service (Customs and Central Excise).

Around 50 disabled candidates clear the UPSC examinations every year, but despite the three per cent reservation guaranteed to them in each service, there are plenty of roadblocks.

Poor implementation of the law

The original Persons with Disabilities (PwD) Act was in force from 1995 till December 2016, when it was replaced by The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act.

It clearly delineated reservation for disabled candidates – one per cent for candidates with blindness or low vision, another one per cent for those with hearing impairment, and one per cent for those with locomotor disability or cerebral palsy.

However, despite the law being in place, it took the government nearly a decade to identify posts in the bureaucracy for disabled candidates, thereby allowing the law to exist only on paper for 10 years. This only came to light when Ravi Prakash Gupta filed a case in the Supreme Court.

Gupta cleared the civil services in 2007, but was denied a posting because he is visually impaired. In the course of the hearings, the government admitted that posts in the civil services were identified for the first time only in 2005, and it began looking for candidates in 2006. The Supreme Court ruled in Gupta’s favour in 2010, asking the Centre to allot him an Indian Administrative Service post.

It also didn’t help that until 2014, the UPSC didn’t specify how many seats were being reserved for disabled candidates.

Deeply-flawed process 

Even though vacancies have now been identified and the number of reserved seats stated, critics of the selection process say the process for finally selecting candidates remains deeply flawed.

Disabled candidates have to fulfill certain functional and physical requirements, which are different for each service. Critics argue that the norms are arbitrary. So while a disabled candidate can be classified in the ‘locomotor disability’ category under nine functional criteria for the IAS, the criteria maybe altogether different for IFS.

“A blind candidate can be an IAS, but can’t be an IFS. How are the functional requirements of an IAS are different from an IFS?” asks Pankaj Sinha, a lawyer in the Delhi High Court.

Sinha, who himself is visually challenged, has represented many disabled candidates.

“This concept of cadre-controlling authorities deciding functional classification and physical requirements is very flawed. They don’t coordinate with each other internally, and this results in such arbitrariness in physical requirements. Only if a central authority is given power to take a call on it, this problem can be resolved,” he said.

Examples of this arbitrariness run into hundreds. The IFS “only” appoints candidates with low vision; in 2015, the first blind candidate joined the service.

“Why is there such arbitrariness in appointments? Is it not injustice to thousands of other blind candidates?” asked Javed Abidi, a rights activist.

While in 2016, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment said clearly that no exemption has been granted to any department from recruiting disabled candidates, eligible candidates are routinely rejected by the civil services.

Naturally, the faith in the government to intervene is limited. “In 10 years, they couldn’t identify the posts. Do you expect them to bring positive changes? All the major changes have come only after the directions of the court,” lawyer Sinha said.

Future uncertain

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act brought in last year promises “to give effect to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”.

In some cases, the new law promises to increase the reservation to four per cent. But even in the past, the problem hasn’t been the provisions of the Act; it has been its implementation. Thus, the true impact of the new Act on disabled civil services aspirants remains to be seen, with the first set of results expected in about seven months.

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